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Staying Mentally Healthy – A Guide for Students

Getting a global education and living on campus is undeniably one of the best experiences you can have. University is not about education alone, it is about a holistic experience of living in another country, meeting people from diverse parts of the world and learning to be independent in a foreign land.

However, while the experience is enriching, and university years are an exciting stage in students’ lives, being away from home and the pressure of work can, at times, be overwhelming. Moreover, this transition coincides with a critical period of social, psychological and biological development in young adults. This exacerbates the chances of developing a critical or persistent mental illness, which typically develops during childhood or adolescence (in 75% of the cases).

This is why it’s important to know what to do in order to stay mentally strong and also know when and how to seek help, should the need arise.

Here’s a list of the most common mental-health issues faced by students

Recognizing the signs and seeking professional help

The problem with mental health is that, unlike a physical ailment, it may not be easy to recognize. This is why it’s important to be aware of the signs that may indicate the need to seek help from a mental health professional.

The first step to tackling mental illnesses is recognizing the following, in case of yourself or those around you.

  • Constantly feeling anxious or excessively worried
  • Change in appetite, sudden weight gain or loss
  • Consistently low energy levels, no desire to do things you previously enjoyed
  • Noticeable and persistent change in your sleeping pattern—either sleeping too much or too less—feeling constantly tired
  • Substance abuse—excessive drinking, smoking or the use of drugs
  • Engaging in self-harm
  • Dramatic changes in mood—feeling excessive anger or despair
  • A fall in academic performance

 

If you experience one or more of the symptoms above, it is advisable to seek help from a counsellor on campus or a mental health professional. If you are unsure how you feel, here are a few online resources that could help you. It is important to note, however, that these are, by no means, a substitute to a session for a licensed professional.

You’re not alone – your university will help you

Universities are more than aware, as well as concerned, about the importance of mental health. To this end, they strive to increase awareness, usually by conducting orientations—traditional presentations or discussions, short videos, role-playing and other activities. The objective is to familiarize students with the symptoms of mental distress, the resources available to them, and offering support to those in need. What’s important to note is that usually these discussions take place in a free and informed manner, and that the information is presented to students in a relevant and memorable way.

Apart from the above, several universities also opt to organize free mental health screenings to enable students to monitor their mental health. These screenings are essentially check-ups or camps that are organized by the university that may indicate what professional services or treatments they require. Moreover, it also de-stigmatizes seeking help for mental health. Many universities also provide in-house counselling and wellness services to cater to their students needs.

Here are some steps that universities often take to help students who are facing challenges in learning.

  • Preferred seating in classrooms, like the near the exits if they feel the need to leave
  • Separate exam rooms
  • Additional Breaks during class sessions
  • Deadline Extensions

Providing them with the option to submit work from home

Staying on top it

It’s important to actively take steps to stay mentally strong. Here’s what you can do to stay physically and mentally fit.

You are what you eat.

Mom was right. Eating right is of prime importance and it directly affects how you feel. Eating protein-rich foods and complex carbohydrates can aid in boosting your mood and also your concentration.

It’s important to eat nutritious, balanced and timely meals and drink adequate amounts of water. True, this is easier said – when you are living in a dorm, or by yourself, food takes a back seat and anything that comes out of a bag has instant appeal. However, when done regularly, it starts to have an effect on your health. It might help to look for simple recipes and make quick meals in order to save time and yet, eat right.

Diets that are low in carbohydrate could worsen depression. And it’s all in the chemistry. The brain chemicals that make you feel bright and well – serotonin and tryptophan – are triggered by carbohydrate rich foods, hence making it important to eat these. Also, low Glycemic Index (GI) foods, like certain fruits and vegetables, lentils, whole grains, kidney beans, chickpeas etc are known to affect your mood and energy levels. Hence, a nutritious diet is key to staying well. You must also know what to avoid – foods high in refined sugar, salt or saturated fat are best avoided (or eaten in moderation).

Exercise is key.

There’s a basic science to this – exercise releases chemicals called endorphins in your body. Often called the happy hormones, these trigger a positive feeling in your brain. Staying physically fit, thus, can alleviate some of the frequent mood changes that one may have, and boost overall mental health. This will go a long way in keeping energy levels high and regulating your mood—which in turn can reduce anxiety. So develop a routine to include some basic exercises – even if you can do this four days a week, it would help in keeping you mentally fit.

The magic of sleep

There’s no substitute for a restful sleep, which is essential for the proper functioning of our mind and body. Lack of sleep can lead to increased irritability, sluggishness, reduced attention span and diminished memory. A regular sleep cycle is not only promotes a healthy routine, but also boosts both immunity and productivity. Sleep also reduces stress and improves memory.

  • In order to sleep well, here are some things you can do (as a student some of these may be hard to do, but having a good sleep is essential to mental well being, so try as much as possible to incorporate these in your routine.
  • Have a sleep routine – Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
    Stay away from nicotine and caffeine.
  • Exercise (but not before bedtime)
  • Avoid looking at screen an hour before sleeping – the light sends the brain a signal
    that it’s time to be up.
  • Don’t eat large meals late – keep a few hours between meals and bedtime.
  • Have a warm bath before bed (but not right after eating)
Friends and support systems

Friendships are an integral part of our lives, especially when on campus. When you are away from home, friends become family and a part of your support system. Invest in people and develop relationships with those you trust and spend time with them, especially when you feel over-whelmed or anxious. As far as possible, try not to isolate yourself. Make plans with family members and friends as often as possible. Also, look out activities such as joining a club, class or support group—where you could meet new people.

Cutting yourself some slack and remembering the me-time

As much as your schedule allows it, try and take out some time for yourself – even if it is fifteen minutes in a day. Do anything that makes you happy in this time – reading, writing, dancing, or simply watching your favourite show. Also, make a conscious effort to not be hard on yourself.

While juggling multiple tasks, try to create a schedule – this will allow you time for yourself. Also, set realistic and achievable goals. This way, you’ll experience an immense sense of accomplishment as you meet your targets. And don’t forget to reward yourself once you achieve your goals. It’s extremely important to recognize your achievements and to reward yourself for your hard work – you’ve worked for it.

Avoiding the drug and alcohol trap. Seeking help

At all costs, avoid drugs and excessive alcohol. If you feel the need to give in, it may be time to seek help. This will prove to be a slippery slope and telling yourself that you’ll do it “just this once” is not going to work. It’s never once – it’s a start. More often than not, this aggravates mental health issues, and may develop into a severe problem in itself.

Speak to a friend, and if you are in company of those who are doing this, you need to step away. Find someone you trust and get their support in seeking help. There’s nothing wrong in admitting that you need to see a professional. If you continue to show consistent systems of mental trauma or have the slightest doubt that you may be dealing with one, start by reaching out to the campus counsellor or a certified professional. Universities strive to build safe spaces with accessible facilities for all their students— you can always choose to avail their help.

Helping a friend who needs it

If you believe that someone you know is showing signs of depression, the American Psychology Association recommends the following

  1. Encourage them to seek help: express your concern in a gentle and respectful manner and recommend seeking help if they feel the need to.
  2. Educate yourself about their mental illness: Learn about their illness and try and understand the impact it has on them, in order to support them to the best of your ability.
  3. Provide balanced support: resist the urge to take charge. Instead, engage in an honest conversation about how they’re feeling and how they would like you to help.

Going to university is an exciting but challenging time. Amidst the changing environment, it is imperative to look out for our mental health as well as others’. Taking a few steps in this direction, by both students and universities, can go a long way in building a (mentally) healthier tomorrow.

Date added
16.07.2020

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